40 Lessons Learned through 40 Years of Traveling

40 Lessons Learned through 40 Years of Traveling

Thirty years ago I was piled in the back of my family’s Suburban on the way to Colorado. Twenty years ago I was an irresponsible college kid taking road trips across Texas just for a weekend on the Guadalupe River. Ten years ago, I was teaching high school English and squeaking one last bit out of the summer in New Orleans. Today, I am never quite sure where I’ll be next. Simply opening an email could change my plans. My, what a difference a couple of decades make.

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I can hardly believe it, but I am officially in my 40s. During those decades, I’ve been very fortunate to experience a good bit of this earth. In fact, probably more than some will ever see in their lifetimes. Those opportunities have truly been blessings, but always leave me wanting more. One week in familiar Texas surroundings and I’m itching to leave again. As long as I’m in a perpetual state of go then all is well in my world. Clearly, I am an addict and travel is my drug of choice.

I can’t begin to recount all the things I’ve learned as a result of my traveling, so I decided to put together a list of the first 40 that came to mind. Call it a stream-of-consciousness list rather than a concise one. Thus, here are 40 things I’ve learned through my 40 years of traveling.

Air Travel

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1. Bring your own bottle of water. It’s one of the few things you can control in the air.

2. Join an airline loyalty program. No matter your airline preference, make sure you don’t let flight miles go to waste and NEVER let them expire.

3. Get an airline branded credit card and learn its benefits by heart. If for some reason you fly a different carrier than your regular airline, then look into getting one of their credit cards, too. Often there is no fee for the first year and there’s a mileage bonus attached. With this type of credit card, usually benefits include a free checked bag, preferential check in, and priority boarding.

4. Seat Guru is your best friend. Go to the site to figure out which airline seats don’t lean back all the way and where the bassinets are located {so that can be absolutely avoided}.

5. The person seated in the middle always gets first dibs on the armrest. Anyone who disagrees has never flown in a middle seat or is a selfish jackass.

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6. Sweet talking the gate attendant in hopes of securing a business class upgrade is a fool’s errand. It ain’t happening, though when you least expect it, one might just fall into your lap.

7. Don’t give dirty looks to the parents with the crying infant. Save those for the parents with the out of control seven-year old.

8. A pair of Bose noise cancelling headphones takes care of a whole lot of flying annoyances. {see #7}

9. Airplane bathrooms are disgusting, but denial and Bath & Body Works Anti-Bacterial Gel do wonders for making it through a flight.

10. Not everyone is a seasoned flyer, so patience is essential, lest you be hauled out of the plane in handcuffs.

Airport Lounges
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11. The airport lounge is not your personal living room. Shoes stay on and feet remain on the floor. And snide looks rarely change the offending party’s manners.

12. Booze may be free, but the bartender should still be tipped.

13. Finding a great airport lounge is something that should be revered and always appreciated. I’ll fly through Tokyo for the sushi and beer machine in the United lounge alone.

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14. Make sure to grab some fruit, tea, snacks, and Splenda before boarding a flight. You never know how long you’ll be stuck on the tarmac. That apple might just prevent a low blood sugar tantrum.

15. Headphones are required for Skype calls, iChat, and movies. There is no exception to this rule.


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16. Booking directly with a hotel really increases your chances of getting an upgrade or not being put by the ice machine. Being a loyalty member of the hotel group is also helpful in that regard.

17. Take the toiletries even if you don’t love them. When you’re about to jump in the shower at home and realize that you’re down to a sliver of soap you’ll be grateful for that lemon verbena bar that smells like Pledge.

18. Tip the maids. They probably work harder than anyone else in the hotel.

19. You don’t use a fresh towel or change sheets every day at home, so why do you need it in a hotel? Join the conservation efforts of the property, even if it’s really just a ploy to save the hotel a bunch of money.

20. Instead of throwing away the shower caps use them to cover the soles of your shoes. It keeps the clothes in your suitcase from smelling like a metro station.

Road Trips

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21. The most direct path usually isn’t the most scenic, nor the most fun.

22. Don’t stop for food at any place that is traded on the NYSE. Mom and Pop gas stations and diners sometimes have the best food, or at least some of the best people watching around.

23. Master the art of the roadside bathroom break. This skill will come in handy for many years to come.

24. Learn to read an actual map rather than depending on GPS. There are places without 4G, 3G, or Internet all together, and those places are usually pretty awesome.

25. Once you learn to read a paper map, it’s essential to then know how to fold it. A laminated one doesn’t count.

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26. Knowing how to determine north, east, south, and west is essential. And, no, north isn’t just up.

27. Getting lost isn’t always a bad thing. However, getting lost below1/8th of a tank of gas could be tragic. Keep an eye on the tank.

28. Take your time and don’t be afraid to deviate from your route. When will you have the chance to ever witness a guy wrestling an alligator or pick your own peaches? If it piques your interest then just do it. At the very least it will make for a good story.

29. Nothing kills the mood of a road trip like red and blue flashing lights in the rear view mirror. Drive the speed limit or figure out how to talk your way out of a ticket.

30. Know that the journey is just as important as the destination. Soak up each mile traveled.


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31. When you’re a little kid, don’t let your brother put your shoes on for a family photo. Odds are they’ll be on the wrong feet. The picture will live on for eternity and you’ll look like the idiot who didn’t know left from right.

32. If you find a great deal on a flight then buy it and figure out the rest later. Chances are that the fare will be sold out the next time you look.

33. Taking a photo of your rental car is vital in the event you forget its make, model, color, or all three. It also helps when dealing with shady car rental agents.

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34. Keep in mind that the day will come where you no longer go on family vacations with your parents and siblings. Try not to kill one another and enjoy the time together.

35. Beauty and fun can be found even in the most god-forsaken places if you’re willing to keep an open mind.

36. Travel alone and do it often. Your experience will be vastly different and oftentimes more rewarding.

37. When in doubt, just buy the insurance. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

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38. Don’t let money ever be the reason for not doing something you really want to do. Create a plan and figure out how to make it happen.

39. Fear is the kryptonite to rewarding travel.

40. Make a person who is struggling with English feel at ease. After all, they are fluent in least one language that you probably don’t know. On the contrary, knowing a few basic words in the country’s language you’re visiting goes a long way with the locals. Being an English snob does not.

And one to grow on…

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41. Put the camera down and iPhone away. Soak up the moment, because it won’t last forever.

Beyond these basic lessons, travel has taught me about various cultures, religions, food, politics, languages, and customs. It’s taught me that there’s an entire existence beyond my Texas and American bubble and that our way isn’t the only way. Travel has taught me to appreciate things like bar code scanners in grocery stores, dependable Wi-Fi, and the basic ability to communicate in my native tongue. Perhaps more than anything, travel has taught me that memories are exponentially more valuable than things.

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